'The Maiden' Is a Dream-Like Voyage Toward Loss and Grief

Directed by Graham Foy

Starring Marcel T. Jimenez, Jackson Sluiter, Hayley Ness

BY Rachel HoPublished May 10, 2023

It's an obvious comparison, but it's hard to shake the Stand by Me vibes in the opening moments of The Maiden. Two teenage boys, Colton (Marcel T. Jimenez) and Kyle (Jackson Sluiter), spend their days hanging out in Calgary's suburbs, exploring construction sites, swimming in the river and indulging in artistry of the graffiti nature. The two exhibit a carefree nature that only adolescence can provide, and as they ponder what they're going to be doing in 10 years time, we settle into a coming-of-age film about two friends navigating early adulthood. 

It's here that Canadian director Graham Foy, in his feature debut, spins the film on its head. After an accident prematurely ends Kyle's adventures, The Maiden becomes a sullen and meditative portrait of grief at an age that is already innately complicated. Jimenez is tremendous as Colton who listlessly trudges through the school year barely registering the sympathies of his classmates and teachers. Grief has a unique characteristic that is known to those who have grappled with loss and is remarkably articulated by Foy and Jimenez by creating a world around Colton that continues on while his has been frozen in time. 

Just as after the first 20 minutes of The Maiden, Foy flips the script once again, shifting the perspective from Colton to Whitney (Hayley Ness), one of his and Kyle's classmates. Whitney is a withdrawn kid whose seemingly only friend has given her the cold shoulder. There's an awkwardness to Whitney that Ness plays up brilliantly and uncomfortably such that when we see Whitney encounter Kyle, the film becomes awash in an unnerving energy. 

The Maiden is a haunting film. The curious and rather genius part of the film is the question mark over exactly what and who is being haunted. To compliment this unnerving affection, Foy imbues a strong sense of absence across the film. There's a constant feeling that something is missing in The Maiden. A missing piece of the puzzle in Colton, Whitney and Kyle's lives that is passed on to audiences and sticks with us. It's that emptiness that inexplicably works in favour of the film and grants us an intuitive understanding of the characters and their mental state. 

Foy manages to push the film toward the supernatural without becoming a ghost story — just as he was able to push the film towards a coming-of-age story without actually existing on that plane. Throughout the film, he engages in this tightrope balancing act and somehow never falls off. His storytelling evokes Apichatpong Weerasethakul's ambiguous and grounded surrealist nature, while his filmmaking has a Malickian quality. Combined together, Foy's ambitious and bold debut becomes a dream-like rumination on youth, loss and friendship that is familiar and singular at the same time.

Canadian cinema feels like it's in a great place at the moment with a varied group of filmmakers with distinctive tones and styles bursting through the gates. Foy's command and confidence in his voice makes him a member of that wave worth keeping an eye on.

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